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Much-Anticipated Refugee Exhibition Ready for Downtown Boise Installations

"We're vigilant. This is what we're about. It's not about hate. It's about all of us."


In a few days, downtown Boise will play host to a provocative three-location exhibition of the faces of refugees who call Idaho home.

"I'm excited and anxious, and surprisingly not too tired," said photographer Angie Smith, whose work, under the project title Stronger Shines the Light Inside, will pop up Sept. 1 at three prominent Boise locations. The work has been made possible, in large part, thanks to a grant from the Boise City Department of Arts and History.

"The idea came to me five or six years ago while visiting Boise," said Smith, whose roots in Boise go back three generations and include her grandfather, who for many years operated Riley's clothing store on Eighth and Bannock streets.

"More and more, I was impressed by its growing diversity. People from every corner of the world," she told Boise Weekly in a December 2015 interview about her photo project.

In the months leading up to the Sept. 1 exhibition—which includes large installations in front of Boise City Hall, the Grove Plaza and 10th and Bannock streets—the issue of refugees has become a national political and cultural flashpoint, including in Idaho.

For starters, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has not been shy with his fiery anti-refugee rhetoric. In the Magic Valley, anti-refugee activists have spread a string of falsehoods in the wake of an assault on a girl at a Twin Falls apartment complex. Earlier this year, the Idaho Statehouse saw a pro-refugee rally on the steps of the Capitol one day and an anti-refugee meeting inside the Capitol on another day, the latter which was attended by about a dozen Idaho legislators. All the more reasons, said Smith, for her exhibition of positive images of refugees to be displayed on the streets of Boise.

"Among the many things I've learned is how important it is for Idahoans to extend their reach beyond an initial greeting," she said. "Almost to the person, those refugees who found success had someone reach out to help that refugee in their first year in Boise. It was someone who said, 'Come with me; let me show you something special.'"

Photographer Angie Smith is behind the lens of Stronger Shines the Light Inside. - ANGIE SMITH
  • Angie Smith
  • Photographer Angie Smith is behind the lens of Stronger Shines the Light Inside.

Smith and a team of volunteers will begin installing Stronger Shines the Light Inside on Wednesday, Aug. 31, with the first piece slated to go up at Boise City Hall.

"We're installing three large fence-panels, each about 12 feet long and 6 feet high, in a triangular shape. Then, we'll cover the fencing with huge vinyl sheets with color images of the refugees. The display will also have stories about the people you'll see," she said, adding each installation should take a couple of hours.

Next, the team will move to 10th and Bannock streets, where fencing frames the still-under-construction Hyatt Place Hotel.

"That's where you'll see 15 more images on vinyl—each one is about 100 feet long," said Smith. "Then, we'll head over to the Grove Plaza in the afternoon and put up a third unique exhibition of 15 more images. It should be a pretty full day."

Timed to coincide with First Thursday, all the exhibitions will be open for public viewing Sept. 1 and continue through Tuesday, Nov. 1. An opening night public reception will be hosted at The Linen Building, beginning at 7 p.m.

"We'll have music, dance and poetry," said Smith. "One of the highlights will be former students from Hillside Elementary. Some of the former students - Boise natives - have paired up with refugees and they'll be sharing some of the poetry that they've written together."

Understanding that harmony is not necessarily on some Idahoans' agenda, Smith said she has already had separate conversations with the Boise mayor's office and Boise Police Department about providing proper security for the exhibition.

"The exhibit has a very strong message," she said. "And the best way to protect something like this is to come together as a community and say, 'We're vigilant. This is what we're about. It's not about hate. It's about all of us.'"